British Columbia

'There's such a concern': July rain damaging cherry crops in Okanagan

Rainfall in July in the typically hot and dry Okanagan may be good for preventing wildfires, but it's not so great cherries. "There's such a concern at this point, because the cherries have really absorbed all the all the water they can," said Penny Gambell, a partner at Gambell Farms in Lake Country.

One farmer estimates that 50 per cent of her early crop has been ruined

High levels of rain in the Okanagan are causing the early season cherries to split. (Bunvir Nijjer)

Rain in July in the typically hot and dry Okanagan may be good for preventing wildfires, but it's not so great for cherries.

Heavy rainfalls scattered over the past few weeks has caused a lot of damage to cherry crops in the region. 

"There's such a concern at this point, because the cherries have really absorbed all the water they can," said Penny Gambell, a partner at Gambell Farms in Lake Country.

The cherry farmer, and former president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association, estimates that 50 per cent of her early season cherries have been damaged by rain, and about 30 per cent of her later season cherry crop as well.

Cherry farmers are hopeful that with drier weather in the forecast, the later season cherries will sustain less damage. (Glen Lucas)

Rain in June is usually good for the early season cherries, however as it gets closer to harvest time in July, cherries stop being able to absorb a lot of water, causing the skin of the fruit to split. 

Add some hard falling rain, and the skin will "just pop," Gambell told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

'Hit hard,' says growers

The rain has been a problem for cherry growers all across the Okanagan, said Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association. 

"The early-to-mid-season cherries are being hit hard," Lucas said. 

When the rain causes the cherries to split open, they develop a crescent-shaped scar on them usually near the stem. When this happens, they spoil quickly and don't make it to the marketplace, he said.

The crescent-shaped scar near the cherry stem is a sign that the skin of the fruit has split open and it will likely spoil quickly, said Lucas. (Glen Lucas)

When more than half a crop is damaged, sometimes the cost of labour to harvest isn't worth it for the growers. 

To try and salvage the crops, some growers will bring in fans, while others hire helicopters to hover over their orchards to dry their crops, but it's "very expensive."

The early season cherries typically sell commercially between $1 and $1.25 per pound, while the late season cherries are considered a premium export product and can often sell for nearly double, Lucas said.

Hope for late season cherries

With higher temperatures and drier conditions in the forecast, both Lucas and Gambell are optimistic that the later season cherries won't be as damaged. 

"Hopefully the next crop will come off a little better," said Gambell.

With files from Daybreak South

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